Scripture Verse

Shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Luke 2:8

Introduction

Words & Mu­sic: John H. Hop­kins, Jr., in Ca­rols, Hymns and Songs (New York: Church Book De­po­si­to­ry, 1863), pag­es 9–10 (🔊 pdf nwc).

portrait
John H. Hopkins, Jr. (1820–1891)

Lyrics

illustration
Christmas Carols New and Old, 1871

At Beth­le­hem, in win­try cold,
The faith­ful shep­herds guard their fold:
The crowd­ed town is sunk in sleep,
While mid­night vi­gil still they keep.
And rocks and hills are ring­ing,
While they, to shield their sheep from harm,
And keep them­selves awake and warm,
Are chee­ri­ly, loud­ly sing­ing,

Refrain

Hallelujah, hal­le­lu­jah, hal­le­lu­jah,
Praise the Lord!

Their flee­cy flocks are ga­thered round,
All ly­ing on the fros­ty ground,
And new-born lamb­kins may be seen,
Close nest­ling, here and there, be­tween.
Their shep­herds thus sur­round­ing,
With tune­ful heart and wake­ful ear,
Their live­long night they love to hear,
The rocks and hills re­sound­ing,

Refrain

When lo! an an­gel, from on high,
Came sail­ing down the star­ry sky;
A glo­ry all around him shined,
And left a track of light be­hind.
His way thus swift­ly wing­ing,
From far he smiles with ra­di­ant joy,
That shep­herds thus their voice emp­loy,
All night in sweet­ly sing­ing—

Refrain

Fear not, said he—for at the sight
The sim­ple shep­herds start with fright—
Fear not, for un­to you this morn
In Da­vid’s town a Babe is born:
Tis Christ, your Lord and Sav­ior,
Whose reign, when He is crown­èd king,
Shall make both men and an­gels sing,
For ev­er and for ev­er.

Refrain

While yet he spake, in robes of flame
A fly­ing cloud of an­gels came;
Upon the mid­night air loud rang
Their gold­en harps, while thus they sang:
To God on high be glo­ry:
And peace on earth, good will to men!

Angels and shep­herds join­ing then,
Thus hail the won­drous st­ory,

Refrain

Their lead­er then those hosts ob­ey,
Unfold their wings and soar away
Yet loud their gold­en strings they ply
All sing­ing, harp­ing, as they fly;
Chorus to chor­us call­ing.
Till past the stars they dis­ap­pear,
That song the list­en­ing shep­herds hear,
Still faint and faint­er fall­ing,

Refrain

Then straight they go to Beth­le­hem,
Their flocks all fol­low­ing af­ter them;
They find the Babe in man­ger laid,
With Jo­seph and the mo­ther-maid;
Before Him low­ly kneel­ing,
They tell their tale: the in­fant King
Smiles sweet­ly on them while they sing,
With joy that ca­vern thrill­ing,

Refrain

Returning, they the tale re­peat
Through all the long day-dawn­ing street;
From door and win­dow crowds look out,
To hear their strange, yet joy­ous shout.
Their sheep still fol­low, bleat­ing;
And all that hear the shep­herds’ song,
With burn­ing heart and ting­ling tongue,
Send on the an­gel­ic greet­ing—

Refrain

And ev­ery Christ­mas-tide, that song
More nu­mer­ous sounds, and yet more strong;
From age to age, from pole to pole,
It rolls along, and yet shall roll:
Till, crowned with splen­dor glo­ri­ous,
That Babe shall come again, a king,
And saints and an­gels all shall sing,
In end­less, bound­less chor­us—

Refrain